By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The House twice failed to pass two versions of a parental bill of rights, which is still barely alive and could be reconsidered later.
House Bill 10, sponsored by House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and others would have required educators and counselors to inform parents if their child was transitioning genders and changing pronouns.
But opponents of the bill, said almost all of the parental rights listed in the bill are already in law and the provisions to “out” a student would be more harmful than accomplishing the goal of greater parental involvement.
The House voted down an amended version of the bill on a 190-194 vote.
Opponents said the proposal would change the state’s child abuse and neglect definition and statutes and not in the best interest of the child.
Rep. Heather Raymond, D-Dunbarton, said the change would make it more difficult for the Division of Children, Youth and Families to protect children.
She called the bill a massive overreach of government that would place teachers and educators between students and their parents over pronouns.
The parental rights already in law are adequate, Raymond said, while the proposal is a “clear pathway for abusive parents.”
The author of the plan, Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, said his bill does not change the definition of child abuse and neglect, noting the right created in his bill is the “right to know, not the right to abuse.”
He said if a student named Sam now wants to be Sue, the bill would prevent schools from keeping that information from parents.
If the child says his father will kill him if he finds out, Lynn said, the school would be required to determine if the child is at risk or just wants to avoid a difficult conversation.
School districts can’t simply say they want to protect the child and do nothing else, he said, they would have to determine if the child is at risk.
Rep. Paul Terry, R-Alton, said parents have had natural and inalienable rights for bringing up their children that have been acknowledged for centuries, but have recently come under grave threats.
“We need to correct imbalances and serious misunderstandings,” he said, as teachers and medical providers have greater control, noting the future of the country depends on this.
“This is not a weapon to divide,” Terry said, “it is a method to unite.”
The House also failed to pass the bill itself on a 189-195 vote.
Opponents of the bill said people need to understand what living with an abusive person is like.
Rep. Alicia Gregg, D-Nashua, told about her abusive situation and how it affected her daughter as well.
She noted her former husband controlled their lives for 16 years and sought information from schools about his children.
“Abuse is already against the law and children are being abused daily,” she said. “Not all homes are like ours was and you can’t tell the difference.”
Rep. Peter Petrigno, D-Milford, said he was an educator for 40 years and reminded House members that teachers and school board members are parents too.
He, like others, noted the bill is not necessary and said the act of forcing a teacher to respond to a parent about their child’s sexual preference is likely unconstitutional as it amounts to coercion.
“Pass this law and you are putting every child struggling with something at risk,” Petrigno.
But Rep. Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, said the family is the key to a child’s upbringing.
“I think parents should know everything, not someone somewhere deciding Steve does not get to know this,” Smith said. “Let them go all the way. It is really hard, but you have to talk to your family with all of this. At the end of the day, your family loves you.”
The bill was tabled on a 193-192 vote before a vote to kill the bill could be taken. The bill may be brought back before crossover when is April 6.
The Senate passed a similar bill down party lines last week.
“I am disappointed that some of my colleagues voted to deny parents’ inherent rights to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their own children,” said Packard after the vote. “You can rest assured we will continue to make legislative efforts to protect your right to be involved in raising your children.”
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.